As the saying goes, you can't judge a book by its cover, and that would certainly be true of the Buenos Aries Cafe on S. First Street, just south of Oltorf. For four years, this little Argentinian gem has operated out of a fairly non-descript cinder block-ish building between a pawn shop and liquor store. But from the moment you walk in, its intimate setting and smells from the kitchen immediately let you know it's gonna be all okay.
The place only seats about 30 inside; there is some seating on the front patio, and fortunately, they have some heaters going. My two companions and I arrived a little past 7:30 on a weekday night, and there were only two tables available, and fortunately, one was a four-top. We were seated, and began perusing the menu. It's been a year maybe since my last visit (Why has it been so long since I've been there?? it's only down the street from my house!), and I have a warm place in my heart (and stomach) for the Pastel de Papas (shepard's pie), and have tasted some of tender pillows from the magnificent Gnocchi Quartet. But then the Milanesa a la Napolitana was sounding tempting as well. What do to? After perusing the menu, one of the two waiters came over and asked if we had heard about the evening's specials. We hadn't. One was an osso buco and the other a surf & turf. After a little more agonizing, all three of us made some decisions.
We started with two of the empanadas, the carne picante (spicy beef) and pollo (chicken). To me the dough on their little pockets of goodness is quite good, as it's a nice flaky pie dough-type recipe. There have been some other places in town over the years that serve empanadas, but to me their dough has always been like a tasteless cardboard. These are baked to a nice golden brown, and again have a nice flakiness about them. The beef was quite good, little bit of kick to it; the chicken didn't do as much for me, but it could also be because as we split them, I cut each one into three pieces, and since I took an end piece, it didn't have much filling in it. I would be tempted to try it again though, but I can certainly vouch for the beef!
After much deliberation on my part, I decided on the osso buco special, and my companions both got the surf & turf. Neither dish disappointed. My veal shanks were just how you want them to be: totally tender and falling off the bones. They prepared it with carrots, celery & onions in a tomato-based sauce, but the richness of the meat really shone through. Really just divine. The perfectly round ball of mashed potatoes struck me as sort of funny, given the sort of "floppiness" of the meat, but they were a fine accompaniment. My companions' steak was cooked to a perfect medium rare, and given they both cleaned their plates, I'd say they were happy too. The Argentinian red wine we picked, the Cava de Weinert Carrascal blend of Malbec, Merlot, and Cab, was a great wine for all of our dishes.
Feeling full, but not wanting to miss out on a dessert opportunity, we decided to share one, going for the Pionono, but it was sold out for the evening. We opted for the Panqueques, which I recall being scrumptious, and the little crepes stuffed with dulce de leche mousse did not disappoint either.
This past year, Buenos Aries Cafe has opened a second location in east Austin. Don't know if the building is any more aesthetically pleasing on the exterior, but surely one hopes the food is as memorable as it is in their original location.